There are few places in the world that offer stalwart coastal cruisers the vistas found along Alaska’s Lost Coast, the region between Yakutat Bay and the Copper River delta. The town of Yakutat is the last harbor until Cordova, a quaint fishing village nestled at the foot of the Chugach Mountains. The scenery, shifting from dense forest to massive glaciers emerging from mountain passes, is astounding. In the distance are the snowcapped peaks of Mount Huxley and Mount Steller. The Bering Glacier, the largest in North America, is a 2,250-square-mile expanse of blue-white ice, a marvel to view on the approach to Cape Suckling.
The narrow cut between Kayak Island, where the beachcombing is unsurpassed, and Okalee Spit leads to the ghost town of Katalla, the site of Alaska’s first oil discovery. Katalla, once a town of 10,000 residents, has been abandoned since the 1940s, and the forest has since reclaimed it. Just one original house remains there, but all types of artifacts can still be found in the woods. Farther north past the Copper River delta is Orca Inlet, the southern passage into Prince William Sound, and Cordova, which is accessible only by sea or air. The town’s 4,000 summertime residents live around a common hub: the sheltered harbor filled with commercial fishing vessels. The area is home to the world’s largest population of sea otters, and in summer, pods of killer whales cruise the waters.
Spend a few days at Orca Adventure Lodge, which overlooks the inlet, and fish for salmon, halibut, lingcod and colorful rockfish. Also, be sure to set aside an afternoon to fly with legendary bush pilot Gail Ranney of Fishing and Flying, Inc., and explore the wilds from the air. Orca Adventure Lodge, (866) 424-ORCA; [email protected]; www.orcaadventurelodge.com.
In London’s Heathrow Airport a handful of fishermen armed with rod cases, reel totes and bags sat waiting. Our flight to Mauritius had been canceled due to a rather substantial cyclone clobbering the tiny island, which sits 500 miles off the eastern coast of Madagascar.
Twenty-four hours later, we assembled at the La Pirogue Hotel for the annual Marlin World Cup. The seas slowly subsided, and the competition began. Spartan, but well-built 40-footers slid to the dock to pick up international teams of anglers and observers. I went aboard with an experienced U.S. team. As the morning wore on, the anglers grew agitated with the crew, who seemed more intent on repairing odds and ends in the bilge than winning the Cup. But at high noon, as though a factory whistle had sounded, everything changed. The crew closed hatches, wiped and put away tools, and adjusted the fighting-chair bucket and rods. By 12:30, a 400-pound black marlin was greyhounding through the ocean.
I looked at the mate, who smiled and said, “Every day, they get hungry after lunch. There are schedules even in paradise.
The Indian Ocean off Mauritius is alive with blue, black and striped marlin. The Black River, on the southwestern edge of the island, is a popular port. A few miles out, anglers can fish the deep trench for tuna, wahoo and billfish. Fishing is a year-round activity, with the high season stretching from November to December. The sights of the island are on par with those of popular locales in the South Pacific, as are the island’s hotels, golf courses and culture. Air Mauritius, (800) 537-1182.
ISLA COIBA, PANAMA
Isla Coiba, Panama’s largest island, has an interesting, if somewhat checkered, past. During the rule of now-deposed dictator Manuel Noriega, Isla Coiba, which sits off Panama’s Pacific coast, housed a penal colony for political prisoners. In 1993, the island was reborn as a wildlife refuge and national park.
With no amenities or services except for the park office and a small sportfishing operation (created from the remains of a biological research station), Isla Coiba is far from a tourist trap. The four-masted cruise ship Sea Voyager visits the island several times each year, and Coiba Explorer and Coral Star, floating fishing lodges for adventurous anglers, visit the island with more regularity.
The waters surrounding Isla Coiba are home to an incredible array of game fish. At the famed Hannibal Banks, 35 miles offshore near tiny Isla Picaroon, the ocean floor rises from a 10,000-foot abyss to within 125 feet of the surface. There, anglers can challenge powerful black marlin, acrobatic sailfish, colorful mahi-mahi and massive schools of giant yellowfin tuna.
Once ashore, go for a hike in the rain forest, where howler monkeys assault the ears, beautifully colored birds delight the eyes, and strange reptiles scurry underfoot. Freshwater streams are filled with exotic fish and prawns as large as lobsters. Since Isla Coiba is a 200-mile cruise from Panama City, you’d better plan to be self-sufficient. You won’t have to worry about seeing much company, either. M/V Coral Star, (866) 924-2837; www.coralstar.com.
The Forgotten Middle comprises 450 nautical miles of Pacific coastline between Mexico and Costa Rica, two areas known for unforgettable pelagic fishing. El Salvador is at the heart of the Forgotten Middle, and not surprisingly, its waters roil with the same species.
“Fish on! my crew, Charlie, shouted. I pulled the throttles back to neutral and rushed aft. We had been hand-lining for our dinner, hoping for a “football yellowfin or mahi-mahi, even a jack like the last one. Instead, we had a sailfish of ungodly size on the line. Charlie horsed the 5-foot vela onto the trawler yacht’s swim platform. Way too much fish! With the lure extricated, we set him free and quit fishing for fear of another success-too many hungry sails!
El Salvador’s political waters once roiled, too. Eleven years have passed since the bloody civil war ended, and the Massachusetts-size nation has settled into hopeful normalcy.
Watching sportfish boats and cruising yachts thunder past verdant Jiquilisco Bay, landowner Juan Wright saw an opportunity. This led him to establish Barillas Marina Club, a first-class facility catering to El Salvador’s elite and foreign yachtsmen in need of clean fuel and respite.
Come by sea, and the marina will send a skiff to guide you into the bay. Entering and exiting El Salvador is easier than doing so in other Latin-American nations (trust me), and Barillas has government offices on site to make the process even smoother. The marina rents well-appointed bungalows and is one hour from El Salvador’s international airport. English-speaking Operations Manager Heriberto Pineda will cater to your needs-ichthyological or otherwise. Barillas Marina Club, (503) 632-1802; [email protected]; www.barillasmarina.com.
Cool tropical air swooped from the mountaintops, enveloping our boat in a mist combining the perfumed sweetness of the island and the smell of burning sugarcane. Several snapper lay in our cockpit ready for the barbie, a nice complement to a pitcher of minty mojitos chilling on the wet bar.
Part of Cuba’s appeal as a fishing destination is that development and pollution have not found their way outside Havana. The net benefit is the island’s abundant variety of fish and other marine life. We certainly found this to be the case when we anchored off the western tip near Maràa la Gorda. Also, we spoke to a friend spending time in Cayo Guincho who said that he was diving with a Bahamian sling, and that there was such a variety of marine life on the outskirts of the untouched reef that fishing there was like ordering off a menu.
Sure, there are layers of paperwork on both ends of the trip. Be sure to contact the U.S. Treasury Department for a copy of “What You Need to Know About the U.S. Embargo before you leave. A good cruising guide, too, can help make sense of paperwork.
We also contacted José Escrich, the commodore of Club Nautica in Havana. Escrich’s office and the club’s facility are in Marina Hemingway, the necessary clearing spot. Escrich’s desire to promote yachting within Cuba and his ability to help us muddle through the paperwork were incredibly valuable. We had drafted an itinerary ahead of time (since it required approval), and Escrich helped us railroad it through the proper officials. We never encountered any hassle.
Make no mistake: This fruitful fishing paradise is shrouded by Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. But for adventurous yachtsmen looking to go off the beaten path, Cuba is worth considering. And one of the best parts about the country is the people. I have yet to find a warmer, more hospitable culture in any place I’ve cruised. For this alone, I’m looking forward to returning there. A few good-size yellowtail snappers would be nice, as well. Club Nautica, (011) 53 7 24 1689.
-George Sass, Jr.